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October 25, 2002

KSD supporters rally in Frankfort, leave 'frustrated'

From: Danville Advocate, KY
Oct. 25, 2002

Staff Writer

FRANKFORT -- Supporters of the Kentucky School for the Deaf in Danville and the Kentucky School for the Blind in Louisville rallied on the steps of the Capitol Thursday after an unscheduled meeting with Gov. Paul Patton inside the building, and the tone of the speeches made it clear the group was not satisfied with what they had heard.

"We're frustrated," said Beulah Hester, a teacher at KSD for 23 years. "He told us nothing. If the governor can't do anything about our complaints, who has the power? Where does the buck stop? Who makes the final decision?"

Approximately 90 supporters of the two schools gathered to voice their concerns about changes and proposals being implemented by the Kentucky Department of Education. Those changes include the elimination of superintendent positions at the two schools and the installation of "satellite offices" throughout the state to regionalize services currently offered only at the two main campuses.

"We need people to make decisions who have the expertise and the training to work with our kids," said Eddie Johnson, a KSD board member and alumnus. "These schools are important to our children. They must not be taken away. It's sad we even have to be here defending them."

Originally scheduled as a rally only, the agenda changed when Patton agreed to meet with the delegation. What he heard was not complimentary of the KDE.

"Children throughout this state will no longer have the option of attending these schools in grades one through eight if the Department of Education has its way," said Carla Ruschival, KSB alumni association treasurer. "The Department has not and is not listening to us -- they are following a hidden agenda that was unsuccessful in 1997. Now they are attempting to eliminate the schools, piece by piece, and it is up to you as governor to exert your authority to get the facts."

Patton listened as several representatives from each school voiced concerns, but his answer was not what they wanted to hear. "I do not run the Department of Education, " he said. "I appoint board members who run the department autonomously. And their purpose is not to keep jobs for the superintendents, but to best serve the children."

Patton assured the group that funding has not been cut for either school, but he added that there is no additional money available, either. "I'm confident that the $17 million budgeted for these programs is not enough, but we don't have the funds to add to it," he said. "I can tell you we have no intention of reducing the funding we have currently, but I'm not in a position to recommend increases. That leaves us with the question of how best do we spend what we have?"

Earl Erskine delivered an impassioned plea to keep the KSD facility intact. "I lost my hearing in eastern Kentucky in the coal mines when I was 13," he said. "If it weren't for the school for the deaf, I'd still be living in those hollers, probably on welfare. One of my sisters brought me to KSD when I was 16, and there I got an education, then went to college. I taught at KSD for five years. This school has meant everything to me. It saved me."

Lisa Gross, spokesperson for KDE, said she is concerned that there has been misunderstanding of the department's initiatives. "We are not going to close either campus, I can say that unequivocally, " she said. "We are trying to upgrade the services that are offered. One of the recommendations by the consulting group was to eliminate either the superintendent or the principal at each school, because the group felt it was redundant to have both and only added an extra layer of management between the students and the department. This is not a plan to eliminate the Louisville and Danville campuses."

The proposal to establish "satellite offices" throughout the state to work with children through the eighth grade has drawn fire from school supporters because they say it's the first step to closing the main campuses by decentralizing services at the two schools.

"Our teachers work hard to learn how to deal with our students, and the fact that they are on campus with the children who need them is something that cannot be eliminated," said James McGaughey, KSD alumnus. "The experience of living on campus offers advantages that cannot be gained from regional offices, and those regional offices will take away funds needed for the central campus."

"Kids are being placed into the public school system when they are not ready," said Hester. "Our teachers spend many years learning how to teach the deaf. We are worried about our kids under this new system."

Gross reiterated the KDE's view that the satellite offices will not detract from the main campuses. "We are concerned that there are children throughout the state who need these services, but are unable to get them because, for whatever reason, they can't get to Louisville or Danville," she said. "We feel these offices will add to the main campuses, not take away from them. Children in grades kindergarten through eight will still have the option of attending the main schools rather than the satellite offices, but they will also have that local option as well."

But Connie Dotson, and employee of KSD, feels the advantages of local control of the schools is being overlooked. "These leaders and the deaf and blind communities say the right things about our schools," she said in a written statement. "We hope the Kentucky Department of Education and the governor will work with us. We have lots of knowledge and resources to make our suggestions for our schools. We prefer to keep our superintendents at each school, not controlled by the centralized department in Frankfort."

Gross said the department welcomes the input of the KSD and KSB representatives. "It's an emotional issue," she said. "We're talking about kids with special needs and the parents and teachers feel they are not being listened to. Ultimately, though, we feel right now we are not providing the kids with the skills they need, and that has to change. But to do that, we have to involve everyone who has a stake. There will be opportunities for focus groups and other avenues of input to mold the direction of these schools, and we want to hear from the people closest to the issue."

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